Corne’ Spies, son of well-known top trainer, Tobie, was always destined to be a trainer. His father, Tobie, was however, determined that he should have an alternative career to fall back on if things did not work out. Corne’ thus has a National Diploma in Equine Science to go with the wealth of practical knowledge he gained from his father. After his father retired in 2000 Corne’ took over the stable which diminished in size from 120 horses down to less than 10 horses. With a bit of luck on his side Corne’ lined up 2 fillies which he knew could win and the plan came together when both won and they gave his dad a fitting farewell. Having had a great filly like Rock Opera to train, Corne’s task has been made a lot easier and the recent win by WAR HORSE, when ridden by Jeff Lloyd, will ensure that Corne’s name will be up in lights for some time to come. With STRAIGHT SET also poised to crack it big time, racegoers will do well to follow the Spies yard closely. WINNING FORM found Corne’ to be enthusiastic and passionate about his business, and his horses, and we expect big things from him in the near future.
What is your name and age? Corne’ Spies, 41 years old.
What is your star sign and birthdate? Libra, 14 September 1970.
Where were you born? Bethlehem, Free State.
Favourite food? Steak and Chips.
Favourite drink? Coca-Cola.
Favorite music? Golden Oldies.
Favourite sport? Horse racing, of course!
Favourite holiday destination? The Garden Route has a special allure, but there’s not a lot of opportunities to holiday in my occupation.
Your father, Tobie, was a very successful trainer. Did he actively encourage you to follow in his footsteps or did he tell you to look at other avenues to make a living? I was very lucky to grow up in the game. I think it is every father’s dream to have his son follow in his footsteps. My dad always gave us the choice to do what we wanted in life with no pressure to go in any direction from his side. If anything he encouraged us to qualify ourselves in something out of the game to have an option to fall back on, should racing not work out.
After you matriculated in 1988 you joined your father’s yard. What were your duties in the yard and what did you find most interesting about working with racehorses? I really got very interested in racing when I was still in High School and I used to “slip” onto the course from the age of 16. Only 18 year olds were allowed in, back then. I was drafted into the air force with the mid-year intake and I spent the first 6 months after school at my dad’s yard. I just enjoyed every moment of it but I was still very unsure about my choice of career outside the industry that I needed to fall back on.
In 1989 and 1990 you were in the Air Force and then returned to the yard for a short spell before studying equine science in 1991 and 1992. Where did you do your equine science studies? It was while doing my national service that I made up my mind that I wanted a career as a trainer. I really missed the racing whilst doing my 6 month tour in South West Africa (Namibia) and I made use of every opportunity to go racing when stationed back in SA at the Waterkloof Air Force Base. My dad insisted that I complete my studies before joining the yard on a permanent basis. He wasn’t too concerned about what I wanted to study as long as I got some sort of an education. It was at this time that I came across the National Diploma in Equine Studies at the then Technikon of Pretoria and it was the obvious choice. My dad only found out what course I was following mid-term through the first semester so it was too late to change then. The diploma entailed 2 years of academic studies and a year of practical work whilst completing a thesis. I still spent a lot of time at the yard during this time, over weekends and holidays. My dad’s stable was probably at its peak with an aging Yard Master and the juvenile Bloodline Million winners, Fast Gun and Mysterious Hal raking in the big wins.
You were with your father for 12 years before taking out your own license. Why did you wait so long or did you feel that you and your dad made a good team so why break the partnership? My dad and I always had a very good relationship and it worked out well for us working together. I married Jeanie in 1996 and, with the decline in our yard, had to find a way of supporting my young family. My dad’s advice on getting an education seemed prophetic in these times of turmoil and I broke away from the yard to make a living outside of racing in 1998. My wife and I started an Insurance brokerage that did well enough to enable me to contemplate the idea of training a few horses. This would be more as a hobby for when my dad decided to retire in 2000. The once mighty yard of over 120 horses, in the early and mid 1990’s, had dwindled away to less than 10 horses and I had to start from scratch in August 2000.
After you started on your own did your dad retire and leave it to you or did he still take an active role in the training setup? I was very lucky that my father did not interfere with me in those early days of going solo. We lined up 2 fillies that could win, to run early in August of 2000, when I took over the stable, to give me a good start. As fate would have it, I ran both late in June to bring them on and get them perfectly primed for their August runs, and both won giving my dad a very deserving farewell. It took me until August to get my first win in Bloemfontein for the Linington’s. Year’s later they came back to own the champion filly Rock Opera with me. I approached my dad, after about a year, to come and spend time at the stables, when he felt like it. Before I knew it he was there every day of the week, enjoying the horses more than ever before and without the pressures of the business side of training. His wealth of experience is of great value to the yard.
How many Grade 1 winners have you had to date? 2 Grade 1’s. Rock Opera won the Allan Robertson and WAR HORSE the Golden Horseshoe on July day. I’ve had the good fortune that our very good horses sold for huge sums of money early in their careers but, unfortunately, this meant that I could not take them to Grade 1 glory.
How many feature race winners have you had to date? Must be around 15, but I’m not counting. In this game you are only as good as your last runner and past successes are easily forgotten.
How many winners have you trained in your career? It must be close to, or just over, 400.
What is the most memorable win that you have pulled off? WAR HORSE is still fresh in my memory when winning on July day which is very special. Fun Fly’s Nursery win in my first season of training was very special and the style in which she did it was hair raising. Rock Opera was another one of those really special fillies that could win in top company with effortless ease.
In the past you have said that winning the Allan Robertson with Rock Opera was the highlight of your career. Is this still the case or have there been any more exciting moments than that? All the big feature wins are special, in their own way, and it would be unfair to choose between them. On a more personal level, getting the owner of the year award in the Northern Cape was really very special and earning more stakes at Flamingo Park, as an individual owner than all the big guns that compete there, was really something!
Rock Opera was obviously one of the best horses you have ever trained. Do you have any horses in your yard right now which could rise to the heights she did? Rock Opera was a MACHINE! I have very high hopes for a couple of my current charges and it would be great if they live up to my expectations.
Are you a punter and if so, what is the biggest gamble you have ever pulled off? Punting has long lost its appeal for me. As a youngster I was standing in the second box with a horse that had a lot of my money riding on it, and I realized that whilst I should be elated with a very commendable second place, I was re-senting it instead. This gave me perspective on the joys of racing horses without having to have a punt.
Your Victory Moon filly, STRAIGHT SET, ran a game second in the Grade 1 Golden Slipper over the Greyville 1400m on July day. That race proved that she can meet, and beat, the best. What future plans do you have for her? STRAIGHT SET is an ultra consistent filly that has held her own in top company for the whole season. We might attempt another stab at the Grade 1 cake in the Thekwini Stakes, at the end of the season after which she can enjoy a well deserved break.
The Victory Moon colt, WAR HORSE, won a great race in the Grade 1 Golden Horseshoe over 1400m at Greyville on July day. He was ridden by champion jockey, Jeff Lloyd. What did Jeff have to say about the horse after he won on him? As any jockey, after winning a Grade 1, he was full of compliments for WAR HORSE, but commented on him still being very green.
Now that WAR HORSE has shown what he is capable of achieving, what are your future plans for him? Let’s hope he stays in SA for his 3-year-old career. I would like to try him in the Premier’s Champion Stakes at the end of the season for the short term. He could certainly go for the July Handicap next year if he stays in South Africa.
STRAIGHT SET and WAR HORSE are both by Victory Moon. Is Victory Moon your favourite stallion or do you think is it more of a coincidence than by careful planning that this came about? Victory Moon has proven to be an outstanding sire in the 3 short seasons that he stood. We were very lucky to secure a couple of his outstanding specimens that were offered in his last season.
You have every reason to want Victory Moon horses in your yard. Which other stallions do you particularly like? I have never paid much attention to the pages in the catalogues. I prefer to buy an athletic specimen and the pedigree only hints at the price that one will need to pay. If I have to single out a sire whose foals made an impression on me at the sales, it would have to be the freshman Trippi.
Apart from STRAIGHT SET and WAR HORSE which other horses in your yard do you think are going to make it big? DEFENDER OF PEACE.
Do you have any young exciting unraced horses that we should keep an eye on? BEST OF THREE.
What horses would you advice the public to follow over the next couple of weeks? GLASTONBURY – never leave him out of anything as he is capable of beating the best, but he does have problems. HEYOUNEVERKNOW.
You now run two yards – one at the Vaal and one at Stilbaai. How many horses do you have at the Vaal and how many at Stilbaai? The Vaal still has most of them, just over 60, and the Stilbaai yard at Favour Stud in the mid 20’s.
Is your dad, Tobie, helping at the Vaal and are you, mainly, looking after your Stilbaai operation? As all trainers running multiple yards will tell you, the team of people that is needed to keep everything on track is the single most important key to your success as a trainer. I am very fortunate to have my father Tobie, and Charlene Tucker, with the help of our stable employees, Johannes Dlamini and Isaac Moloi at the Vaal and the very capable Renate du Plessis and her husband Jannie at the Favour Stud yard. It is well-known that I do a lot of travelling due to the fact that my horses run all over the country. I try to divide my time as best as I can between the two yards.
How did it come about that you decided to have stables in Stilbaai after spending so many years at the Vaal? Just over 2 years ago we relocated my family to the George area with my wife’s health being our main concern. I boarded some mares at Favour Stud and in getting to know the owners, Ernst and Engelize du Preez, the idea was hatched to start a training yard on the farm.
What, in your opinion, are the advantages of having a yard in Stilbaai? It is a bit out of the way, almost halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. This gives the yard access to all the racing centres in the country as we cover Kenilworth, Durbanville, Arlington and Fairview from the Stilbaai yard and Turffontein, Vaal, Flamingo Park, Scottsville, Greyville and Clairwood from the Vaal yard. It is common knowledge that I am not afraid to travel with horses to suitable racing venues and I think we have perfected the recipe to travel and race them successfully.
Having stables at Stilbaai gives you relatively easy access to Cape racing. Do you think we may be seeing any of your horses in feature races during the Cape summer season? We might bring some down to contest the feature races. Time will tell.
Who are some of the patrons in your yard? The patrons with lots of horses in my yards are, Fito Englezakis, Rob Macnab, Ernst and Engelize du Preez, from Favour Stud, and Jose Soares.
With the racing scene in South Africa changing rapidly do you still rate the Vaal as the best place to train in South Africa? The Vaal will always have a special place in my heart as I cut my racing teeth there. With its tranquil country atmosphere and the large variety of training tracks to work on, it must be one of the best, I’ve seen in the world.
The competition between top trainers in the country is now very fierce. Do you feel it’s necessary to have treadmills, swimming pools etc. in order to be able to compete at the highest level? I have never been one for gimmicks. These tools probably have a role to play, and are often used to impress clients, but one must remember that there are no stakes on offer at the moment for treadmill-or swimming races. To me, training a racehorse is more of an art than a science. Art is not measurable and holds no boundaries. Although the science is important to understand what you are doing, the trainer has to have the talent and gut feel to apply to it, otherwise no amount of scientific data or tools will get you there.
Do you feel that the new power feeds available to trainers are making a big difference to the performance of the horses? Feeds have come a long way to create a balanced, energy charged diet. One must just remember the basics and you cannot go far wrong, even if you mix your own feed.
With Fransie Naude not riding as many horses as he used to which jockey or jockeys are you mainly using? Fransie has been a part of our team for very long and he is a very talented and experienced rider with good skill to judge horses. He has been off with an injury and we’ll use him where we can in features as he comes back.
You have had a wonderful association with Fransie. What would you say was the highlight of your association? The posing style in which he brought horses like Fun Fly and Rock Opera home in the features will always stay with me.
How much interest does your son, Xander, take in what is going on at the stables? Xander is in mid-High School now and it looks as though the bug has bitten him. He reminds me a lot of myself at his age.
Will you be hoping that he will also be passionate about horses, and racing, so that he can continue the family training tradition? I am now in my dad’s shoes and although, I might have my own ambitions for him, he has to find his own way in life. I hope he finds an alternative form of income for him to fall back on if the horses cannot carry him.
Racing as a business is very time consuming but outside of racing is there anything you are passionate about? I’ve never found the time for golf and the likes. I like to spend my spare time with my family.
From what you have seen and experienced do you think racing is ‘straight’? If racing wasn’t straight, there would not be a bookmaker left in the world and I would be training on a beach property drinking refreshments through a straw out of a coconut. Dream on.
What is your opinion on the NHA’s decision to stop betting operators from sponsoring trainers? It does not affect me as I have never been sponsored. A case can be made when a trainer is sponsored by a racing operator, or the betting division of that operator and a big shareholder in the operation also has his horses with that trainer. But that is for the shareholders in the company to decide and not me. It would be sad to see big sponsorships of racing disappear even if they sell so called harmful goods.
Many people ask how it is possible for you to race your horses on a regular basis? I am well-known and often criticized for running horses frequently. Traditionally my dad would open the program a month after a horses’ first run and look for the next race. A trainer like Buddy Maroun pioneered frequent racing in South Africa and, although a critic at first, he got me thinking. I started experimenting a bit with the idea that an athlete would often compete in more than one event on the same day in the Olympics and multiple events within that 2 week period. One of my dad’s favourite stories was about how he rode in bush races as a kid and won 5 of the 7 races on the day. He only failed to win the other 2 because they were for non- thoroughbreds. I have developed my approach to this and it works for me. Remember that NO HORSE EARNS STAKES WHILE IT’S STANDING IN HIS/HER STABLE…..stakes are earned in races. It is, however, important to take into account that not all horses are the same and some do not handle racing as well as others and only a sound horse can race.